The National Gallery of Ireland is located in the heart of Dublin, and holds the national collection of European and Irish fine art.
In June 1852 William Dargan, the father of the Irish rail network, approached the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) with an offer to underwrite a spectacular exhibition on Leinster Lawn in Dublin, the home of the RDS since 1815. He wished to imitate the great exhibition that had taken place at Crystal Palace in London the previous year. Just eleven months later, on the 12th May, the exhibition was opened in an astonishing series of pavilions for which the architect, John Benson, received a knighthood.
Following the success of the exhibition a special Dargan committee was established as well as a committee called the Irish Institution to promote the establishment of a National Gallery in Dublin. In November 1853 the Irish Institution reported that it had considered four possible sites for the location of a Gallery including one adjacent to Leinster Lawn. The next ten years saw active campaigning for the funding of the new Gallery building which was designed by Francis Fowke and which had as a condition that its exterior design would replicate that of the Natural History Museum.
On Saturday, the 30th of January 1864, the Earl of Carlisle officially opened the National Gallery of Ireland to the public. The collection comprised just one hundred and twelve pictures, including thirty-nine purchased in Rome in 1856 and thirty which were on loan from the National Gallery London and elsewhere.
In comparison to that figure, the current collection has about 14,000 artworks - including about 2,500 oil paintings, 5,000 drawings, 5,000 prints, and some sculpture, furniture and other works of art. Admission is free.